Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of BILLIOT ELLIOT, THE MUSICAL at GOODSPEED MUSICALS
Through November 24th
Soapbox moment: It’s 2019. We exist in a time where tolerance and acceptance are supposed to be the norm, and everyone deserves the right to choose who they want to be and what defines them, all in the absence of judgment. We should also be allowed the freedom to pursue our interests and our passions, and accordingly, have the support of those near and dear us in doing so.
Nevertheless, there are many who still cannot – or rather – refuse to wrap their heads around things that don’t fit into antiquated and “traditional” gender norms. Take Good Morning America anchor Lara Spencer. She got herself into some nasty hot water this summer when she mocked Prince William’s son George’s fondness for ballet. Shamed into an apology, Spencer issued not one, but two, amid a flurry of social media pushback. Right and left, people were blowing up their devices with hashtag- and photo-filled posts extending love and support for the young royal and educating Spencer about boys, ballet, open-mindedness, and well, just plain being nice.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel as if it is really 2019, but rather, decades past. We take two steps forward and ten steps back. Like perhaps back to the 1980s.
Set against the working-class hypermasculinity of Northern England during the UK miner’s strike, Goodspeed Musicals’ infectious Billy Elliot tells the tale of motherless 11-year-old Billy who, quite by accident, stumbles into an all-girls’ ballet class. When he’s asked to turn over building keys to the ballet instructor after his boxing class, Billy’s interest in dance is immediately piqued and subsequently cultivated by the keen Mrs. Wilkinson. Certain that his newfound passion will be forbidden by the single-minded males in his life, including his widowed dad, Jackie, and older brother, Tony, Billy sneaks out of the house and past his addled, senile grandmother and into a pair of ballet slippers.
Mrs. Wilkinson sees something in Billy. And Billy discovers a life force, something that may have died along with his mother and is further dampened by the bleakness of Britain’s current climate.
Scene after scene juxtaposes the grace of ballet against the violence of the miner’s strike; the more “effeminate” elements of dance against the more “male” work of mining. The two contexts, starkly contrasted in some ways, also present a similar kind of raw strength and courage; they show us the importance of finding one’s voice, and how everyone must brace themselves for a future that is unknown.
It’s not long before Billy’s secret is exposed; however, and the fireworks go off. His world comes crashing in on him and the only people who can support him are those who are wholly unavailable to him – Mrs. Wilkinson, whom he’s been forbidden to see, and his dead mother, who only comes to him in his imagination.
Whenever I attend a moving production such as Billy Elliot, I often think about Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias when Truvey Jones says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” Billy Elliot takes it up another notch, toggling from moments of side-splitting laughter to buckets of tears to the aforementioned laughter through tears…I experienced it all and I’ll say it’s my favorite kind of evening. Billy Elliot is an inspiring and totally relevant story for our age. Add to that, a stage full of triple threats, an outstanding musical score written by the ONE-AND-ONLY ELTON JOHN, Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall (who also wrote the screenplay), and one truly could not ask for more.
The night we attended we saw the exceptional talents of Liam Vincent Hutt as the plucky Billy (the role is shared with Taven Blanke). I’m reminded of the stories my father tells about his own forays into dance as a boy which later brought him far and to the stage in his adulthood. Hutt’s very credible Billy is a powerful reminder that we all must find the things that inspire and move us and remain brave in the face of adversity. Sean Hayden as Dad is stoic yet broken, struggling through his grief to raise his sons following his wife’s death. His character arc is both touching and admirable and can serve as life lesson to many. Gabriel Sidney Brown as Billy’s hotheaded brother, Tony, does an excellent job in showing us how not to be at times, but he shares a similar arc to his father as he learns about what is really important in life. Michelle Aravena as Mrs. Wilkinson is a delight to both watch (she’s a wonderful dancer) and hear (she has an incredible voice). Her Mrs. Wilkinson is perfectly crusty on the outside but soft and warm on the inside. Barbara Marineau as Grandma is knock-down-drag-out hysterical as the kooky eccentric who loves and guides Billy despite her often humorous lapses in memory including the moment she finds her lost pasty and nearly ends up with food-poisoning.
A cast with this many gifted young people is sure to put a smile on your face and plump up your heart a few extra sizes. Jon Martens as Michael Caffrey is truly as talented as they come. Martens must have come out of the womb with the ability to make people laugh and I can only say he was made for this engaging, scene-stealing role. As Billy’s best friend, Martens and Hutt play off each other spectacularly. Erica Parks plays Debbie Wilkinson, Mrs. Wilkinson’s quarrelsome daughter, to the hilt. Special mention also to the other wonderful youth in the cast: William Daniel Russell as Small Boy and Ensemble, and the Ballet Girls who double as Ensemble: Margot Anderson-Song, Amy Button, Tess Santarsiero, and Camiel Warren-Taylor.
Lest we not note the rest of the fantastic adult talents! Shout-outs to Jesse Swimm as George and Ensemble; Byron St. Cyr as Big Davey and Ensemble; Erik Gratton as Mr. Braithwaite, Ensemble, and Fight Captain; Connor McRory as Scab and Ensemble; Simon Pearl as Pit Supervisor and Ensemble; Richard Costa as Mr. Wilkinson, Posh Dad, and Ensemble; Nick Silverio as Older Billy, Dancer, Ensemble, and Dance Captain; Rachel Rhodes-Devey as Dead Mum and Ensemble; and Julie Louise Hosack as Lesley, Clipboard Woman, and Ensemble. Special mention to Gerard Lanzerotti and Samantha Littleford as Swings.
At the directorial helm is Gabriel Barre who brings all the elements of this stunning production together like a well-oiled machine; as well as Marc Kimelman for choreography, and Michael O’Flaherty for music direction. Kudos to Walt Spangler for phenomenal scenic design; Jen Caprio for costume design; Jason Kantrowitz for lighting design; Jay Hilton for sound design; Mark Adam Rampmeyer for hair & wig design; Unkledave’s Fight-House for fight direction; Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer as Dialect Coach; William J. Thomas as Assistant Music Director; Dan DeLange for orchestrations, and the rest of the talented crew.
This one is a must-see – a feel-good, socially relevant, simply terrific production!
Follow your passion. It will lead to your purpose. – Oprah Winfrey
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The later procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular. – Carl Jung
When you have a fire in the belly, nothing can quell it; not repression, suppression, ridicule, ostracism, or even water. I think all of us have a fire in the belly. Just not all of us realize what match will ignite it – so you have to look and sometimes wait to discover it.
This is the quintessential core of Billy Elliot: The Musical. A boy who dances to the beat of a different drummer and takes the path least traveled. We’ve seen it countless times before in real life and in art, whether it be films like Rocky, Rudy, Unbreakable, or the 2000 film titled Billy Elliot by Lee Hall. It’s an iconic, and archetypical story – something which undoubtedly Carl Jung would have noted. And because it is, when a story like this is done well – truly done well – it should give you goosebumps and make the hair bristle on the nape of your neck.
Goodspeed’s version of Billy Elliot is all that and more. Not only did I have goosebumps and nape hair tingling, but the show reminded me of the fire in my own belly and why we must find the match that lights it no matter where it may take us and no matter what obstacles are thrown in our path.
The play, which is based on the film, is about a young boy who chooses ballet over boxing much to the chagrin and consternation of his blue collar, working class family and friends. Although the setting of the musical is North East England in 1984-1985, its motifs and themes are just as relevant (maybe even more so) today. Lee Hall, the filmmaker, is responsible for the book and lyrics. The music is by Elton John. Both words and music are seamlessly woven together and nuanced with incredible staging and choreography by Marc Kimelman. Gabriel Barre did an incredible job directing, particularly in a play such as this with so many moving parts. If I were being nitpicky, I would say that in the show’s quest for extreme authenticity, a few of the lines were lost because the actor’s local dialects and accents were so genuine.
But I have no intention of being nitpicky. Billy Elliot is a tour de force.
The casting is brilliant. The talent the young actors and actresses displayed is mind boggling and leads me to my much criticized opinion as a liberal arts teacher that while I personally believe talent can be refined and honed, it must be there to begin with.
The night Pillow Talking saw the play, Billy Elliot was charmingly played by Liam Vincent Hutt (Taven Blanke alternates with him for the role.) His raging dance number at the end of Act One made John Travolta look like an amateur in Saturday Night Fever. Jon Martens as Billy’s young cross-dressing friend shows us what Elton John must have looked like at that age. He has so much charisma now at such a tender age, there is no telling how far his star will rise. And talking about stars, veteran performers Sean Hayden (Dad) and Michelle Aravena (Mrs. Wilkinson) without giving away any spoilers, had palpable chemistry when they were together on stage. There were great arcs to both of their characters as well. Props also must go to the wonderful performances by Barbara Marineau (Grandma), Gabriel Sidney Brown (Tony), and Erica Parks (Debbie).
Here is the part of many of my reviews which I literally hate to do: lumping all of the Ensemble into one big kudo string. In a show like this – well, there would be no show like this without an incredibly talented Ensemble, many of whom double and triple parts. Unfortunately, it is not possible to discuss the strengths of each one. So hoping that our readers do not feel this is just the obligatory mention, kudos to Margot Anderson-Song, Amy Button, Billy Cohen, Richard Costa, Erik Gratton, Julia Louise Hosack, Emily Larger, Connor McRory, Simon Pearl, Rachel Rhodes-Devey, William Daniel Russell, Tess Santarsiero, Nick Silverio, Byron St. Cyr, Jesse Swimm and Camiel Warren-Taylor. Last but not least, I feel compelled to mention the two Swings – who are ready on a moment’s notice to fill in whenever needed – Gerard Lanzerotti and Samantha Littleford.
This is going to sound like such a cliché – but if you want to feel good, inspired and, most of all hopeful, see Goodspeed’s Billy Elliot.